It seems amazing in this day and age that some hotels are still charging guests for internet connections, but charge they do. Some hotels charge per room, others charge per device (ouch!). Some allow free wi-fi only to their higher tier loyal elites, others for all elite levels. And then there are those who offer free wi-fi only in hotel lobbies but charge exorbitant amounts for meeting room usage. And finally, there are those properties, usually very high-end, which charge outrageous amounts for everyone.
But is charging for wi-fi right? I think you can make a good case that it should be free everywhere, but certainly in all hotels.
There are no industry numbers available but a good guess would be that at least 60-70% of hotel guests use wi-fi at some point during their stay. For business travelers, the number is certainly much closer to 100%. Not surprising, virtually all polls show that free wi-fi is the most desired hotel amenity.
This is not a blog about how hotels should shrug off ancillary income. I know it is an important element of their profit and after all, previous primary sources such as telephone, tv movies, and mini bars are not recording the same profits as years past. But wi-fi is different.
Some hotels say the reason for charging guests is wi-fi cost. Of course, greater internet speed requires more expensive bandwidth. For those who want to watch or download video such as YouTube, movies, Hulu, or sporting events, higher bandwidth is often necessary, especially since at any given time most of the hotel guests want access at the same hours. I am not saying every property should offer 90 Mbps download speeds for free but the cost to the hotel is very minimal for basic internet such as checking email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Indeed, even video like Skype or Facetime does not require blazing speeds.
Instead of charging for wi-fi, hotels should see it for what it is – a potential revenue source. Every guest should be able to bring up the property’s site to assist them with things such as room check-in and check-out, shopping for gift shop items, make restaurant reservations, arrange tours, get a taxi, request housekeeping, or maybe reserve space on their shuttle bus. Higher end hotels can add things like room service menus, arrange laundry or dry cleaning pickups, spa appointments, tee times, valet service, even concert or other event tickets. Another possibility – use the hotel website to ask guests what they would like to have stocked in their mini bar. Why would any hotel charge guests for the privilege of spending more money with them?
Some hoteliers respond with, “Wait, not all of these things generate revenue for us.” My response: Oh yes they do. By offering these services to guests, they are more likely to (1) use them via their smartphones, tablets, and laptops and (2) stay at your property simply because you offer these convenient services while your competitors don’t.
Anyone seeing the cost of hotel rooms going down? Didn’t think so. Industry numbers show guest charges are rising as are occupancy rates, and revPAR numbers are soaring for most of them. Fact is, the ongoing cost of wi-fi for a hotel is usually around $400-500 a month. That works out to literally only pennies per day per room for most of them. Honestly, most hotels waste far more than that every day in room cleaning costs and slow employee-intensive check-in/check-out, just as a couple examples.
The wi-fi cost is negligible, the return to the hotel is far greater than the cost, and this is why it should be free at hotels. That’s ALL hotels, everywhere.